09/12/2010 8:29PM

Big spender shells out $4.2 million for son of A.P. Indy

Audrey C. Crosby
Hip No. 14, the first foal of the millionaire mare Balance, sold for $4.2 million at Sunday's opening session of Keeneland September.

 LEXINGTON , Ky. - Benjamin Leon of Besilu Collection in Ocala, Fla., took on some of the Thoroughbred market's biggest bidders Sunday night at Keeneland and won, taking home a $4.2 million A.P. Indy colt out of Zenyatta's Grade 1-winning half-sister Balance. That was the most expensive horse sold at the reformatted Keeneland September sale's opening session. It also was the highest North American yearling price since 2006, when Meydan City topped the September auction on Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's $11.7 million bid.

Leon outgunned such bidders as Coolmore boss John Magnier and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert for the colt. The bay colt consigned by the Mill Ridge agency was the second A.P. Indy colt Leon has bought for seven figures at public auction this year. The other was the $1.2 million son of champion sprinter Maryfield that topped the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale last month.

Sunday's session-topper is the first foal out of multiple Grade 1 winner and millionaire Balance, a Thunder Gulch mare out of Zenyatta's dam and 2009 Broodmare of the Year Vertigineux. John and Jerry Amerman bred the tall, strapping colt that Mill Ridge managing partner Headley Bell described as "a LeBron James."

Sunday's session sold 69 yearlings for a combined $23,965,000, yielding an average of $347,319 and a $250,000 median. The buyback rate was 26 percent. There were relatively few – 12 --scratches from the session.

Due to the reformatting, the figures could not be compared fairly with last year, when the opening session cataloged 207 yearlings, selling 107 for $24,949,000. That resulted in an average price of $233,168 and a $200,000 median. The 2009 buyback rate was 41 percent.

Many had expected that buybacks in 2010 would decrease, partly due to increasing pressure from sellers' banks to pay off outstanding loans.

Keeneland's sales director, Geoffrey Russell, said the company was "encouraged" by the results.

"The goal when we changed the format was that we would see a difference and I think we did tonight," he said. "The pavilion was filled with people who were bidding and clearly enjoying the night. There was an electricity in the air tonight. It was nice. Our hope is that this momentum continues into the next sessions."

Buyer Leon also upended current wisdom with his session-topping bid.

Tepid results and conservative bidding at earlier boutique yearling sales this season had suggested that even the Thoroughbred market's wealthiest spenders were hesitant to break the $1 million mark at a time when purses are falling and sellers are still working to clear an oversupply of equine inventory. But the bay colt, who sold as Hip No. 14 and is out of a half-sister to Zenyatta, attracted lavish bids from all over the sale pavilion, including from Baffert inside and Magnier behind the bidding ring. But Leon hung on and was beaming after the hammer fell as he shook hands with consigning agent Bell of Mill Ridge Farm.

At Keeneland on Sunday, Leon also bought a $450,000 Pulpit filly out of graded winner and Grade 1-placed Chimichurri. Warrendale Sales, agent, sold the bay on behalf of Jess Jackson's Stonestreet operation.

Sunday night's splashy purchase brought optimism to Keeneland, which has dramatically changed the auction's format in a bid to strengthen the two-week sale's bottom line. Sunday was the first of two planned small, select sessions taking place at night, rather than in the former day-long sessions. The sale, which runs through Sept. 26 with a dark day on Sept. 18, continues on Tuesday with continuous sessions starting daily at 10 a.m.

Leon, already a prominent breeder of Paso Fino show horses, said he intends to build a broodmare band of 10 or 12 mares at his Ocala farm and breed both commercially and to race. The native of Cuba heads Leon Medical Centers, a group of health-care centers specializing in Medicare patients. The family-owned company, based in Miami, this year also launched an electronic medical record system that allows instant global access to patients' medical history.
Leon said Todd Pletcher will train the colt.

"We couldn't find anything wrong with him, including the pedigree, and you need that in order to become a very good stud in the future," Leon said of his latest acquisition. "And now he's got to do what he's gotta do to get there."

It was a good night for the William Farish family's Lane's End and the farm's flagship sire A.P. Indy. He also was the sire of Hip No. 40, a $600,000 bay colt out of Grade 1 winner Friendly Michelle that Coolmore purchased from the Stonestreet operation; Taylor Made Sales was the consignor.

Lane's End also sold a $950,000 Giant's Causeway colt out of Spun Silk's dam Spunoutacontrol, from the family of Johannesburg and Tale of the Cat. Kaleem Shah was the purchaser.

Other high prices at the Keeneland September opener included a $800,000 Bernardini three-quarter-brother to Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Status and graded winner Alumni Hall that Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum's Shadwell Estate Co. picked up from the Lane's End agency; a $700,000 Distorted Humor-Oneofacat colt, another Shadwell purchase from Lane's End; a $685,000 Unbridled's Song-Soul Search filly that Lane's End sold to Flag Lake; a $650,000 Malibu Moon-New Economy colt that B. Wayne Hughes's Spendthrift Farm bought from the Taylor Made agency; a $625,000 Distorted Humor-Half Queen colt that Robert Baker and William Mack bought from the Eaton Sales agency; and a $600,000 Street Cry-Shopping filly that the Hobeau Farms dispersal (Three Chimneys, agent) sold to Shadwell.

A three-quarter-sister to Wood Memorial winner and onetime Kentucky Derby favorite Eskendereya also sold for $525,000 to Robert Krembil's Chiefswood Stables. The chestnut filly is by First Samurai and was part of Peter O'Callaghan's Woods Edge consignment. Also above the half-million mark was a $575,000 Empire Maker-Henderson Band colt that Airdrie Stud, agent, sold to Paul Pompa, Jr (Hidden Brook, agent).

Among the night's other notable yearlings were a $475,000 filly by 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper and out of 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri that Jim and Becky Winemiller bought from the Hill 'n' Dale agency, a $475,000 Smart Strike-Minister's Mon colt that Ben Glass, agent., bought from the Bluewater agency; and a trio of $450,000 yearlings. The latter group consisted of a Bernardini-Victory Ride colt that Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley bought from Lane's End, agent; a Distorted Humor-Folklore colt that Southern Equine Stables purchased from the Taylor Made agency; and Besilu's Pulpit-Chimichurri filly.

One of the final two yearlings by now-pensioned Storm Cat also sold Sunday night, bringing $320,000 from Kaleem Shah. The colt is out of millionaire Grade 1 winner Halo America and was brought to auction by the Hill 'n' Dale Sales agency.